AP NEWS

Cleveland air traffic controllers enlist travelers at Hopkins airport to end shutdown

January 15, 2019

Cleveland air traffic controllers enlist travelers at Hopkins airport to end shutdown

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A pilot for United Airlines took a moment on Tuesday to thank the men and women who keep him safe in the skies day after day – the nation’s air traffic controllers, who have been working without pay for the past 24 days.

“I appreciate that they’re still coming to work,” said the pilot, who asked that his name not be published. He lives in Cleveland and was en route to Newark, New Jersey, and then London on Tuesday.

“Their professionalism hasn’t changed,” he said. “They’re vital to what we do. And it’s one of the most stressful jobs.”

About two dozen air traffic controllers from throughout Northeast Ohio gathered at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on Tuesday, greeting travelers and asking them to put pressure on their elected leaders to end the federal government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history.

More than a dozen air traffic controllers from throughout Northeast Ohio gathered at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on Tuesday, greeting travelers and asking them to put pressure on their elected leaders to end the federal government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history.

Air traffic controllers are among those employees considered “essential,” and have been working without pay since the shutdown began in late December.

William Gentry, a long-time controller at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Oberlin, stressed that it’s still safe to fly. But if the shutdown lingers on, he said, the risks will increase.

“Our checks and balances are not there,” said Gentry, president of the union that represents nearly 400 workers at the Oberlin center. “The longer it goes on, the risks go up.”

Michelle Toth, center, was among roughly two dozen air traffic controllers passing out fliers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, seeking help to end the government shutdown, Tuesday, January 15, 2018. Air traffic controllers have been working without pay during the shutdown. (Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer) The Plain Dealer  Marvin Fong

Though traffic controllers are required to work, much of their support staff is considered non-essential and are furloughed. Among them: Duane Kinney, a support specialist at the Akron-Canton Airport. He canceled a trip earlier this month to a Federal Aviation Administration tech center in New Jersey, where he was supposed to test radar software.

Said Gentry: “These are the guys that check up on us every day and make sure everything is all right.”

Others affected by the shutdown include husband-and-wife air traffic controllers Jodi Cessna-McHugh and Chris McHugh of Olmsted Falls, parents of two young children.

Cessna-McHugh said the financial effects of the shutdown haven’t hurt them dramatically yet. She recently had to lay off her babysitter, and has asked friends and family to help with child care. “Come next week, we’ll have to start pinching and moving money around,” she said. “We’ll really feel it.”

Jason Stiwald, another controller at Oberlin, is expecting his first child next month, when his wife is going on maternity leave. “If we’re still shut down next month,” he said, “things will get really interesting.”

The gathering in Cleveland was part of a coordinated effort by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents about 15,000 members throughout the U.S. Other informational sessions are occurring this week in Atlanta, Minneapolis and Dallas.

Gentry said the public generally expressed support for the workers, though many were in a hurry and didn’t want to talk.

The controllers had hoped to approach travelers throughout the ticketing and baggage claim areas at Hopkins, but were relegated to the south end of the upper terminal, outside. According to a spokeswoman, all “public demonstrations” are confined to the same space.

Related: Security lines at Cleveland Hopkins aren’t growing, as TSA agents work without pay during shutdown

Air traffic controllers were passing out these fliers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, seeking help to end the government shutdown, Tuesday, January 15, 2018. Air traffic controllers have been working without pay during the shutdown. (Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer) The Plain Dealer  Marvin Fong

AP RADIO
Update hourly